• The Hard Road Back: Daniel Holloway’s Return to the Professional Peloton

    by  • July 17, 2013 • bio, interviews

    Holloway Lead Photo

    Holloway was steeled with resolve by his family, girlfriend Andrea (pictured left), and self-belief. Photo: Chris H-D

    Here, to the place of Daniel Holloway’s birth as a bike racer – Hellyer Velodrome in San Jose.  An orange-hued late-May horizon cradled the purple night sky above the cycling track, now bathed in a mixture of California sunset and florescent lights below.  Holloway and his girlfriend, Andrea, sat on the cold infield grass, chatting with friends and laughing.  While a  gentle presence in company of his friends, Holloway rode the track fiercely, battling for the overall omnium that evening by using a mixture of canny experience and blistering leg speed. But when Daniel Holloway was a boy, far before he won the USA Professional Criterium Championships in 2010,  and far before he won a slew of national titles on the track, he was a speedskater.  On ice.

    “We were a speedskating family, I grew up speedskating; that was our family sport.  My dad, my mom, my sister and I would get in the car and go to practice, go to races, it was always a family sport… Cycling was a summer sport!  I was getting older and was getting bored in the summer so my dad, who knew about the track, showed it to me.  The first time I came I was like, ‘No way!’, I’m not touching that thing, its scary, I’m not doing it.  Finally I got out here.  I was addicted.”

    The bell lap rang out over the concrete embankments as Michael Hernandez, a local coach, racer, and board member for Hellyer Velodrome announced the race with unrivaled spirit.  Spectators that sparsely filled the stands sipped on free beer, smiling at Hernandez’s quips and names: “Alexander the Great joins the break being driven by the Horrible Hillier!”

    If Hellyer was the safe birthplace of Daniel Holloway the bike racer, the professional peloton which he had become a part of since he was 20 years old was the odyssey that defined his life thus far.  Holloway started out as a junior amateur with Lombardi Sports before he got involved in the VMG/USA National Team.  With Holowesko Partners/Felt U23 development program, he rode with the likes of Taylor Phinney and others, traveling the United States and the world.  At the Philadelphia Cycling Classic in 2009, he rode for the United States national team with current Garmin-Sharp pro, Alex Howes.  Holloway was in the big ring at the start while everyone else pedaled easy – he ended up riding off of the front solo for miles and miles.  He warmed up the crowd ahead of the peloton’s arrival on the infamously steep “Manayunk Wall”. By the time the peloton crawled up the harsh pitches, the raucous crowd was chanting, “USA! USA! USA!”.  Pro riders from Bissell, Ouch, and other teams looked around puzzled.  The whole professional scene looked like a lot of fun.

    Hellyer enshrouded in dusk.    Fixture of NorCal cycling, TIm Westmore, photographs the night's racing.  Photo: Chris Harland-Dunaway

    Hellyer enshrouded in dusk. Fixture of NorCal cycling, Tim Westmore, photographs the night’s racing. Photo: Chris Harland-Dunaway

    In 2010, Holloway left the development-centered programs for young riders and espoirs in order to join Bissell Pro Cycling team.  In the middle of the summer, he won the United States Criterium National Championship – a shock.  Former professional and former teammate on Bissell, Paul Mach wrote a post on his widely read blog, titled, “Holy Hollywood Batman”.

    2012.  It was off to England.  Holloway had signed with Raleigh GAC, based in Derbyshire, so the ascendent young sprinter packed his bags and went across the pond, hopefully to pause in the UK as a stepping stone to a larger career on the mainland of Europe.  Andrea moved over to England as well – it was the couple’s first time living together and they took on their expatriate adventure together.  She was on break from medical school on the East Coast in Maine and he was primed for some of the most critical racing of his career.  Racing was  touch-and-go for Holloway as he struggled to adapt to the British style of racing:

    “Over there, there are only 5 professional teams or so, the rest are Cat 2’s.  But the Cat 2’s are more like American Cat 3’s.  Pretty much every team would look to get a guy in the break and then we sat up and went easy.  Then, all of sudden, after a couple hours, guys would start racing again, your body had switched to fat metabolism and it was hard to get going.  It was a struggle”.

    Holloway waited for things to get easier, but they did not.  He waited for the summer to come – the hot sunny summer of California that he knew so well – but it never came. He won a criterium in the Halford Series that rotates locations throughout England, and he also finished one piloting his bike with one arm while the other one hung limply, almost broken at the clavicle.

    Like the perpetual clouds and intermittent cold of England, the skeletons of cycling’s doping past continued to hang over the sport.  As Travis Tygart and USADA exhumed the truth buried beneath the dark omerta of the 90’s and 2000’s, it was clear Lance Armstrong would go down.  Sponsors’ faith in the sport and its ability to become clean again was shaken.  An amnesia surrounding those dark years was dispersed violently, like a sudden fitful flashback.  Between the delayed implications of the worldwide recession and the unearthing of the sport’s dark past, team rosters across the US shrank, were halved, or disappeared completely.  Exergy Pro Cycling.  Gone.  Competitive Cyclist.  Gone.  Between 60 and 80 professional riders lost their jobs according to different counts by cycling journalists.  There were murmurs that many of the cyclists who survived the layoffs were being paid nothing, or something close to that.

    Suddenly, panic.  Holloway had no team.  No one was interested.  They kept the older professionals at the height of their careers who could guarantee results.  When one talks to Daniel, it becomes evident right away that being a bike racer is inextricably part of his identity as a person.  He is incredibly observant to the nuances and intricacies on the track; revealed as he tutored U-23 promise, Alexander Freund, as the atmospheric light around the Hellyer dimmed during that recent May evening:

    “…You see, you can switch with that rider uptrack and you’ get half-draft, but you can hold position that way save some energy [in the miss-and-out]…  You’re big, so remember, when you’re at another guy’s hip, you have all the control.”

    So it was back to California.  Holloway reconnected with an old teammate from his junior days racing for Lombardi Sports, Eric Riggs.  He heard that Riggs and his team, Mike’s Bikes,  had flourished as a local criterium powerhouse in Northern California.  He got in contact with Steve Paleaz, who sought to assemble a roster that could out-do the year previous.  Roman Kilun, a long-time professional from the area who had won Tour de Nez for the defunct HealthNet team, had lost his job at the Kenda – 5 Hour Energy Team the year before, which was struggling to stay afloat.  Holloway and Kilun joined the upstart squad to get good results and to help mentor amateur riders.

    Holloway racing on Friday night.  Photo: Tim Westmore

    Holloway racing on Friday night. Photo: Tim Westmore

    Returning to NorCal coincided with a burgeoning of the amateur race scene.  The level of competition had been steadily increasing year after year.  At Holloway’s debut road race, NorCal’s infamous Snelling, he came in a frustrating 9th place.  His woes continued at a number of other races, “I was trying too hard to force things”, he explained, “Eventually I just took a week off.  Completely off my bike.  I came back and a little while later was when Sea Otter happened.”

    At the 2013 Sea Otter Classic, Holloway won the last stage of the race, a circuit race on Laguna Seca Raceway that features a steep climb, fast descent, and crosswinds on the backstretch.  He started out the race by lag-climbing to save energy before moving towards the front.  Roman Kilun picked him up with a lap left, they passed a slew of riders on the descent and Holloway was dropped off for the final sprint, which he won in convincing fashion.

    “After that the floodgates opened.”

    Holloway added his name to the list of greats to win the NorCal classic, Cat’s Hill, created by American Cycling Hall of Fame memeber, Bob Tetzlaff, who regrettably passed away the year prior.  Holloway broke away alone 40 minutes into the race and rode solo all the way to the finish, beating local professionals and amateur squads bursting with talent.

    Shortly after, he won Berkeley Hills Road Race, a race that on paper, should not suit a sprinter such as Holloway, but the amount of work he had put into developing his strength was evident.  After being able to follow the race’s closing moves, Holloway opened his final sprint up “Papa Bear”, outdistancing Phil Mooney of Jamis – Hagens Berman and Taylor Bertrand-Barrett of Marc Pro – Strava.

    After his win at Cat’s Hill, Holloway had announced a big development in his season, in his career, that would change everything: he had found a pro team again.  This time, he would not be riding for a pro team in the United States, but in Italy, for the team Amore E Vita.  He had facilitated contact with the team just before Sea Otter and was able to dazzle them immediately with a high profile win.

    “I can’t stall out just because I’m back being a professional… But it’s like a sigh of relief. It’s a different feeling of success.”

    Daniel Holloway’s story is one of only a few like it this year.  A pro who loses their job and bounces around in the gray area of amateur bike racing, competing against professionals, but without any type of salary.  But then, that pro gets redemption, and makes it back into the pro ranks through hard work, supportive loved ones, determination, and believing in their own talent so profoundly that they do not lose faith.  Today’s pro has to entrepreneurially initiate their own connections and search for a place where they fit, even when professional cycling has dismissed them once.




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    Chris Harland-Dunaway grew up in the town of Moraga and now lives in Berkeley. He is a UC Davis grad and Norcal racer.